Bagpipes and barbecues: there are plenty of incentives to attract staff to the office



If you love to play the bagpipe, Steelcase’s world headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan reminds you.

The group of employee bagpipes, a group of staff blues and barbecues are among the activities offered by the American furniture manufacturer in recent weeks to encourage its 1,400 employees to return to the office after more than a year of work mainly at distance.

As an employer and supplier of office equipment, Steelcase has a clear dual interest in persuading employees that some of their best work can be done in person rather than remotely. Like most employers, he doesn’t expect staff to show up at the office five days a week.

The data shows, however, that a gap has widened between what employers hope for as lockdowns loosen and what employees want. Incentives, soft and hard, could play a role in filling it. Faced with a possible overflow of expensive real estate in the city center, owners and employers ask themselves: “How to magnetize the office? But the line between incitement and coercion is fine.

the last survey by the UK Office for National Statistics shows that 36% of those who currently work from home believe they will spend most or all of their time working remotely in the future, while nearly 40 % of companies expect 75% of their workforce to return to work.

“Leaders live in a reality: how they grew up, how they learned to work, their reality of being a senior leader, and people on the front line experience a very different reality,†says Debbie Lovich of the Boston Consulting Group. She was speaking at the Tuesday launch of a new poll 10,000 “knowledge workers†in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom for the Future Forum, a consortium launched last year by Slack, the provider of applications for work place.

The survey shows that 24 percent of white-collar workers now want to work only in the office (or at a client’s) and only 7 percent want a predefined schedule. Flexibility is the second factor after pay as the most important factor in job satisfaction and working from home “is no longer an advantage”. As a result, says Lovich, “we must recognize the flashback [to the office] emotionally can be more difficult for many â€.

Currently, the incentives to return to work, even for just a few days a week, fall into five broad categories.


Psychologist Frederick Herzberg established in the 1960s that there were basic requirements to ensure workers show up, including adequate pay. Its “hygiene factors” have taken on literal reality in the pandemic, as companies rush to make sure workplaces are hygienic and safe. “What we can’t do is open our offices, invite our employees back and then provide a sub-optimal experience,†says Ken Raisbeck, head of occupant advice for CBRE, a real estate services company.


The lockdown has accelerated plans by many companies to upgrade their desks away from traditional office rows to a more user-friendly design.

Companies work on four priorities: comfortable social spaces where colleagues can meet to collaborate in person; private enclaves for quiet work or one-on-one video calls; better technology to allow discussion with colleagues or clients working remotely; and more flexible hours, allowing for “jet lag†so staff can avoid congested trips or accommodate personal commitments.

Axel Hefer, managing director of Trivago, the online travel booking site, says he has detected a “massive demand” from his young employees to return to the group’s offices in Düsseldorf, Germany, but he addresses the challenge in the same way as a software developer. would have. “Stay open-minded and try out different things. Try new things and get feedback, â€he told a recent FT Conference on the Future of Work.


Many employers have started reminding staff of the importance of creativity and in-person collaboration.

“I know I’m not the only one missing the buzz of activity, energy, creativity and collaboration of our in-person meetings and the sense of community we’ve all built,†said the director. Apple General Tim Cook in a memo earlier this month. month that would have met staff resistance, who want greater flexibility.

Paradoxically, spontaneous gatherings also require careful organization.

In addition to its groups and barbecues, Steelcase hosted informal face-to-face conversations at headquarters with its senior management team to attract other staff. He learned from the mistakes made during the end of the first U.S. lockdowns last year, and the company failed to set expectations and effectively communicate what staff would experience when they returned to the office.

“It’s not just you and me breaking the habit [of remote working]everyone has to break it at the same time, otherwise it defeats the purpose, â€explains Hefer.


The tangible perks on offer include free coffee and food. Compass, which offers corporate catering services, says three major investment banks are now offering free meals to staff in London offices. Where they have gyms or office swimming pools, companies are cautiously reopening them.

CBRE’s Raisbeck says homeowners, employers, local businesses and local authorities are also starting to organize ‘placemaking,’ events secured against Covid, such as live music concerts in shared outdoor spaces or areas. reception. An obvious challenge, he says, is to “smooth out†the peak of mid-week office use and encourage some employees to visit on Mondays and Fridays.

How strong these short-term incentives prove to be once lockdown lifts can depend on post-pandemic budgets. Megan Lyon, strategy director at another furniture maker Herman Miller, best known for the Aeron office chair, warns, “Once you offer free food or incentives, it’s hard to [take] their return”.


Few companies pay staff bonuses to use the office again, but there are outliers, including some companies that offer gift cards and vouchers.

CoStar, a real estate data company, made headlines with its decision in April to randomly reward an American employee with $ 10,000 a day, provided they are vaccinated and work in the office at least one day. day a week. Cash distributions are now over, but a trip to Barbados and a Tesla are still on offer. The main goal of CoStar’s awards show was to encourage staff to get vaccinated, but the proportion of workers in its U.S. offices rose from 11% in April to 56% in the second week of June.

There are also early signs of some readjustment of wages to reflect the new landscape of work. Facebook this month said that all employees could work remotely after the pandemic, but their salaries would be recalibrated if they moved to lower-cost areas. This is a luxury that may not be afforded to other employers, some of whom must offer benefits simply to fill vacancies in a tight labor market.

Caution is advised if you are considering cash or cash incentives, says Tina Gilbert of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy: “Don’t reward your top payers and penalize those who are basically living paycheck, â€she said.

What ultimately brings people back to the office, and how long they stay there, will depend on the specific company, teams or individuals. “I tell clients there is no one-size-fits-all,†says Donna Flynn, vice president of global talents for the company. “You have to think about your employees and your business and what is right to bring them together. “



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